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One of my favorite childhood memories is of my grandmother slicing the neck of a chicken she raised herself to drain its blood into a bowl, with which she will “enrich” the Tinolang Manok she was cooking for dinner, Pampango style. I can still see her, her long gray hair tied back in a bun and smoking a Bataan Matamis black filterless cigarette, with the lit end inside her mouth, plucking out the chicken’s feathers after all the blood had been drained out. At the same time, my grandfather would be meticulously stitching shut the belly of his Rellenong Bangus, so intently as if he were sewing the seams of one of the tailored shirts he’d make — he was a tailor, you see, as well as a cook and a musician. To this day, I have not had Tinolang Manok and Rellenong Bangus as good as my grandparents’ anywhere. Admittedly, I am biased, but I believe with good reason. They are both born-&-bred Pampangos.

When people say they or their folks are from Pampanga, others immediately say “Wow, you must be a good cook!” I’ve never heard that remark said to people from other provinces and it made me wish I really could cook just to justify the reputation. Pampanga is often referred to as the “Culinary Capital of the Philippines” and, rightly or wrongly, I believe that is so. Pampango cuisine is basically derived from Spanish and Malay cuisines, enhanced by Macau’s and Cantonese culinary influences. One fine example is the Nasing Biringyi — the Kapampangan interpretation of the saffroned Spanish Paella but similar in style and taste to the Nasi Biryani of Malaysia. It is not regularly served in Pampanga but rather a special dish painstakingly and lovingly prepared only during big occasions like the town fiesta or a family celebration. You will notice that nasi, the Kapampangan word for rice is the same as in the Malay language or Bahasa Malaya. There are many words these two languages share, such as babì for pig, api for fire, belanga for a clay cooking pot, kuali for frying pan, daing for fried fish, nyaman for deliciousness, and so on.

So when my friends from Pinoy Eats World orchestrated a food tour of Pampanga, I jumped right in to join and sample in one whole day as much of my grandparents’ culinary heritage as I could. From breakfast at the Alvis Farm in Santa Rita to lunch at Everybody’s Cafe in San Fernando to dinner at Mely’s Sisig and Barbecue roadside restaurant near Angeles, with a couple of meriendas and tasting sessions in between in other towns! Suffice it to say that the long ride home found us all food-tourists asleep from all the delicious food we indulged in. Yes, indulged is the word! Balubalu, Adobong Kamaru, and Stuffed Betute or Frog, Sisig (made from chopped up parts of a pig’s head), fresh salad from fiddlehead ferns called pakô with salted duck egg, hot chocolate called batirol to go with a breakfast of pindang (or tocino, as it is more popularly called), rich and refreshing Kabigting’s Halu-Halo with carabao’s milk and pastillas de leche, and many many more! The PEW Pampanga Food Tour is a regularly-held jaunt conducted by PEW’s JJ Yulo, Marfee Dizon, and sibling-chefs Namee and Poch Jorolan and is definitely worth participating in at least once in your life. It will definitely give you a full and filling appreciation of the great cuisine as well as culture of Pampanga, whether you are Kapampangan or not.

If you are interested in discovering the culinary delights of Pampanga, you must, absolutely must, join the Pinoy Eats World’s food and cultural tour of the province. This amazing group also conducts food/cultural tours abroad — Hongkong, Turkey, and soon Bangkok. And you will also enjoy their fantastic guerrila or theme dinners within the Metro. To find out more about the scheduled tours and activities, go check out their group page in facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Pinoy-Eats-World/111834652226326)